Little subtlety can be found in BlacKkKlansman as Spike Lee draws harrowing parallels between the past and the here and now.
In the 1970s, an African American detective of the Colorado Springs police department infiltrated the Colorado chapter of the KKK, stopping multiple cross burnings, uncovering the identities of several Klan members who were also high ranking U.S. military officials, and thwarted weapon theft attempts. His name is Ron Stallworth (John David Washington). Using his real name, Stallworth made the initial contact with the members on the phone, while his partner Flip Zimmerman (who’s referred to as Chuck in the 2014 nonfiction book “Black Klansman” by Stallworth and played by Adam Driver) went undercover for the face-to-face meetings. The operation lasted around seven and a half months, with the police chief shutting things down when KKK members wanted to make Stallworth the president of their chapter.
Compelling, powerful, and entertaining as hell, BlacKkKlansman has all the makings of a typical cop drama. However, the film becomes truly inspired when it takes moments such as a Black Pride student rally and turning it into a portrait of potential strong black leaders, and a KKK rally is drowned out by the powerful cries of “Black Power!” from another rally across town . Ideals clash between Stallworth and his girlfriend Patrice (Laura Harrier) on how best to fight for who they are. Flip sees this operation as a job while Ron sees it a crusade, while also arguing that Flip’s Jewish heritage gives him some skin in the game. There are moments that feel comical, some horrific, and some downright inspiring but the tonal shifts hardly matter as the end results come to a film that’s perfect for this time.
It’s a wild story with very real parallels to present day. The 1970s are the 2000s are the 2018s. Reenactment becomes real live footage of last year’s Charolettesville alt-right rally, and Alec Baldwin’s goofy and horrifying racist monologue that opens the film mirrors a lot of President Trump’s recent speeches (one of which makes it into the film). By the end, we may be cheering on Ron and Flip as they celebrate their victory over David Duke (even it’s just in a ‘ha ha, we fooled you’ kind of way), but the transition from the past to the present is enough of a reminder that nothing has changed, really. If you weren’t already aware of that, BlacKkKlansman is here to wake you up.